Despite strong opposition from the commercial free-to-air television networks, it looks like programs produced by the independent sector will earn extra points towards the local content quota for the first time in Australian television history.

This should assist the survival of production houses, many of which simultaneously develop both films and television. A recent trend in Australia has been for the networks to bring drama production in-house and the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) addressed this concern earlier this year by introducing an incentive to commission from outside as part of a raft of changes to the rules. This move should not confused with an independent quota because it is optional.

Producers are breathing a sigh of relief that this initiative has been retained in the final draft of the rules released on Nov 13, providing the licence fee paid by the network is over $169,000 (A$300,000) per hour. This is despite not just the wrath of the broadcasters towards the original proposal, but also that of Communications Minister Richard Alston.

In general terms the new rules encourage more expensive series, miniseries and telemovies, as a way of combating the dumping of high budget overseas programs in Australia at relatively cheap prices. This encouragement of quality should also have some benefits for features, particularly those with a licence fee of over $422,000 (A$750,000) per hour. The ABA has reconsidered and withdrawn the proposal to offer an incentive for broadcasters to acquire rights for films at the pre-production stage.

Stakeholders have one more chance to make comment on the new plan, which the ABA hopes will be finalised in time for implementation early in the new year.